Leaving the Mason’s opulent anteroom behind, we turned our attention to the great meeting hall itself. But before we could do that we first had to make our way through another robing room. Like the robing found a floor below here, this room would have originally been used by members in preparation for the Masons’ highly ritualistic ceremonies. Today, however, the room serves a new purpose as a new kitchen area for the neighboring meeting hall. While many of the rooms original charms – such as its tin ceilings – have managed to survive, spaces originally home to lockers are now home to a kitchen counter and a pair of bathrooms.
As interesting as bathrooms and kitchen counters may be, what we were really interested in sat just beyond those large double doors seen to the left….
After passing through those rather dramatic double doors, the great hall that sprawled out before us was a bit more muted then I had envisioned. While many of the exuberant excesses found in the adjacent anteroom were still present, one major component was glaringly absent. That would be those intricately detailed and painted tin ceilings. While the generous use of those large exposed beams were awe inspiring, the simple white ceilings interspaced between those beams were a bit subdued.
Turns out the original hall was a bit more impressive in its youth but the ravages of age that ad took their toll on the Union Building did most of its damage here in the lodge room. Before the park took possession of the building, the old Masons hall was in almost total ruin, thanks primarily to a leaking roof. That leak had caused the majority of the ceiling here to collapse, completely destroying the hall’s original tin ceiling and taking most of the floor with it.
While the park was able to repair the damage and reconstruct the ceiling’s uniquely patterned exposed beams (as well as the floor), the ceiling was just too far gone to replace. The more subdued ceiling seen here in its plcae was the best outcome given such difficult circumstances, an unfortunate but necessary decision.
While the ceiling may have been lost, a great deal of the rooms other details do happen to remain. These include the original tin cornice, chair rail, and trim. The large double doors seen here are also original. It leads off into the adjacent reception room we explored previously.
Also present here are those faux panels and intricate stencil work, which surround the room on three walls. On the fourth wall, however, we find something a bit different.
Here – on the east wall – stands a moderately sized stage. This is original to the Masons and was used by them for parts of their rituals. The space would also be used for more then a few local talent shows, concerts, and probably bingo once and a while. It’s a role the space will continue to serve, as there will be no interpretive exhibits here an the park plans to open it for use by the community for presentations, lectures, and other similar events.
In concurrence with the Masons’ more dramatic sensibilities, this stage was once surrounded by a painted promesicum featuring classical symbology such as lion statues and columns. Though now removed, some of that promesicum did survive the room’s destruction and is currently in storage. Hopefully to once again grace the stage in the future.
Backstage there are a few more remnants of the stage’s early life sprinkled about; like these interesting artifacts believed to once be part of the scenery mechanism.
As is customary there is a small pass through behind the stage to allow actors to switch sides. It looks to have original been lit by the neighboring windows, but new Industrial looking lights are now installed here.
Before heading back downstairs we take one last look across the stage. Originally thee would have been a staircase leading down into the neighboring reception room from the opposite side of the stage, but that has been replaced by a wheelchair elevator for accessibility.
Stepping down off the stage I could only imagine what the room might have been like during the building’s more exuberant youth. The movers and shakers of the day, all gathering here in ritualistic ceremonies and grand dinners. Outside these windows the great booming metropolis of Calumet tumultuously labored and leisured, pushed forward by the clanging of rock crushers and the whistles of steam engines. For over a century that lively ballet of sight and sound continued on, until those crushers and engines were silenced and the people vacated the streets. But still the Union Building stood, witnessing the resultant exodus and the stillness that followed. Soon its rooms – including the great hall I was standing in now – were vacated and abandoned. Those movers and shakers that once haunted this place were long dead and gone, and only the silent lions surrounding the stage remained.
Yet today, over 120 years since it was first built, the Union Building is silent no more. Its grand halls and opulent rooms have been restored to their former glory, and its spaces utilized to commemorate and celebrate the great metropolis that once churned outside. Best yet, starting today, those halls and rooms will once again be home to the voices of peoples from all across the globe, coming together to share in their common interest and respect for the Copper Country’s rich heritage. The Union Building is reborn anew, and with it a new chapter in Calumet’s turbulent history.
The new Keweenaw National Historical Park’s Calumet Visitor Center – housed within the newly renovated Union Building – is open to the public from 9am to 5pm starting today.